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From SFV to Silver Lake, ‘Chuy’s Pretzels’ Is Highlighting Germany’s Influence in Mexican Culture One Chewy ‘Brezel’ at a Time

[dropcap size=big]F[/dropcap]or printmaker-turned-pretzel-panadero Jesse “Chuy” Reyes, baking was nowhere near one of his main goals. As he admittedly told me over the phone, he used to hate it. 

“The irony is that I used to hate baking. I really love to cook because I can freestyle with ingredients and kind of play around. I ruined so many batches of dough in the beginning because I wouldn't pay attention to the directions.” With his first introduction to baking being an awkward pineapple upside-down Cake, which his Nana taught him, Jesse spent most of his time in the Eastside San Fernando Valley making beats, graffiti, art, and listening to Hip Hop music. 

A long-distance relationship later landed him in San Francisco, where he eventually moved in with a now ex-boyfriend. “I came up for a visit in like 2006 and made it my mission to live there....basically I begged him to let me move in with him. It was funny. I ended up telling my [grandma], ‘Hey nana, you know I’ve been going up to San Francisco all those times...I just wanted to let you know what was going on. I’m seeing someone up there.’” To which she funnily replied, “Oh, thank god, I thought you were selling drugs from the Greyhound!” With a new base of operations to call home, he immersed himself in printmaking and painting with intentions to go to art school. Inspiration can come from many places, including television shows, but more specifically, Alton Brown’s “Good Eats.” 

Photo by Noe Adame for L.A. Taco.

“Alton Brown! I had this Good Eats phase, where I watched all the episodes. My partner at the time really liked pretzels, and I had zero experience making them but wanted to show off for him.” Mimicking and practicing on multiple recipes he would get from the show. He always kept the idea of pretzels in the back of his mind. He immediately connected baking to his artistic practices of printmaking, having to be exact with your measurements and temperatures, patience, and more importantly, the attention to detail. 

That German influence is heard in Mexico’s traditional musical style of norteñas, an adapted form of polka where the accordion is king.

After a spontaneous trip to the East Coast, where he witnessed the pretzel treated with much more respect than the West Coast, he decided to come back and start making his pretzels for friends. “Why don’t you start selling these?” This was a question that was popping up more and more. With more confidence in his baking ability, positive affirmations from his friends, and art school not panning out. He decided to do what comes naturally to artists: He pulled together all his creative resources to start a pretzel pop-up. He named it “Chuy’s Pretzels,” two words that have probably never existed together until Jesse and his Latinidad paired it next to the bavarian specialty bread. 

“Having worked in just about every medium I can, I see the dough as just another material and the brand as being conceptual art. The whole Chuy's brand is really all based around this concept of the German influence in Mexico that I became obsessed with after finding out that there isn't a word for ‘pretzel’ in Spanish. I guess you could call it artistic research.” In Germany, the word for pretzel is 'brezel.'

That German influence is heard in Mexico’s traditional musical style of norteñas, an adapted form of polka where the accordion is king. Not to mention, it is also strongly present in Mexico’s love of beer. The “Mexican Lager or Pilsner” style like Modelo, Tecate, and Corona are variations of classic German styles; beers like Negra Modelo is also a variation of Germany’s darker Vienna style. 

“Wes Avila was a big inspiration because, as someone who witnessed the gentrification of San Francisco's Mission District firsthand, I love the idea that someone who's actually from this city is taking part in the re-shaping of DTLA.”

Eventually, Jesse and his partner moved back to Silver Lake just in time for L.A.’s emergence of DIY pop-up food culture during COVID. When asked what the differences between San Francisco to Los Angeles, Jesse replies: “The hype is way different. S.F. pop-up restaurants are usually pretty low key compared to L.A. I remember when Mission Chinese food opened up, and It was under the radar for months. I feel like if that would have started in L.A., I would never have been able to get a seat there. The hype in L.A. is real...MFs will drive from IE just to try a taco they saw on IG! Overall, I'd say L.A.'s pop up scene is more accessible and less pretentious.” 

At the moment, Chuy’s Pretzels is separating himself from other pretzel pop-ups by providing free delivery. “The whole operation has been a juggling act. I mean, baking, packing, delivering, marketing, managing...it's a lot of work, but the positive feedback I get in return has been a big motivator in all of this.” 

When I ask him who he looks for in inspiration, he immediately brings up Wes Avila of Angry Egret Dinette. “Wes Avila was a big inspiration because, as someone who witnessed the gentrification of San Francisco's Mission District firsthand, I love the idea that someone who's actually from this city is taking part in the re-shaping of DTLA. Their food speaks to my Mexican roots and my love for pocho hipster shit....which is, in a way, what I aim to do with Chuy’s.”

“I'd like to have a brick and mortar spot where I would serve German-style Mexican beers as well. My grandma pretty much raised me. She’s one of my main motivations for doing this—I always told her I’d be my boss one day, and I’m trying to make that happen.”

As for the future of Chuy’s Pretzels, Jesse is thinking of bringing back his original bacon-topped pretzel. His current menu is: “Vegan Cheese & Jalapeños,” Salted, Unsalted, Sesame, “Nooch” (nutritional yeast flakes), and Nori Furikake. The pretzels come nicely packaged in a hand-stamped paper bag keeping the DIY aesthetic. Chuy’s variety of pretzels are soft and airy. A little smaller than the average pretzels, but perfect to pair up with your favorite drink of choice. 

Jesse has his hands full from baking, bagging, branding, delivering, and maintaining his internet presence, but when asked what his main motivational drive for his pretzel pop-up is. “I'd like to have a brick and mortar spot where I would serve German-style Mexican beers as well. My grandma pretty much raised me. She’s one of my main motivations for doing this—I always told her I’d be my boss one day, and I’m trying to make that happen.”

Follow Chuy's Pretzels on Instagram. To place an order, visit his website.  

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